Don't miss the first book in the Belles trilogy by Jen Calonita.
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By Calonita, Jen
PoppyCopyright © 2012 Calonita, Jen
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Isabelle Scott kicked her legs, propelling herself to the ocean surface with a final burst of adrenaline even as her lungs screamed for air. Breaking through the waves, she looked around, focusing on the tiny stretch of North Carolina coastline that she had called home for the last fifteen and a half years. Harborside Beach was still packed at 5 pm. She could see couples lounging on beach blankets while their kids dug in the sand or attempted to bodyboard, but beyond the roped-off swim area, Isabelle was flying solo. She had always preferred it that way. But that was before she’d met Brayden Townsend. As if on cue, he paddled his surfboard toward her.
“Go ahead and gloat, Iz,” Brayden said, not sounding the least bit out of breath, even though he had just paddled over the breaking waves. He pushed a beat-up surfboard toward her. His favorite black wet suit, the one with the pirate skull on his chest, looked barely wet even though they’d both been in the water for almost half an hour.
Izzie, or Iz, as Brayden called her (only her grandmother called her Isabelle, when she called her anything at all), rested her arms on the bobbing board. She couldn’t help but smirk at Brayden. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to,” Brayden grumbled even though his blue-green eyes were playful. Salt water dripped from his short, light brown hair and he wiped it off his face. “You win, Iz. I’m man enough to admit you can swim faster than I can paddle out here, but,” he added before she could gloat, “let’s not forget that I was carting two boards, and pelicans were nose-diving at my head.”
Izzie tapped her chipped purple nails lightly on the board, the bathlike water lapping at her upper back, which was the only part of her torso not covered by the unflattering blue Speedo she wore for her job as a lifeguard. After four, she was off-duty, but unlike some of the other guards she worked with, she didn’t change into her own suit before going for a dip. Why waste time? When she wasn’t working, there was no place she’d rather be than in the ocean. Brayden was the first guy she’d met who seemed to feel the same way. They’d only been friends since mid-July, but they had been meeting up practically every day since, and this was the best time of day to do it. By 5 pm, the soupy North Carolina heat had started to subside and there was even a light breeze. The sun was still bright, but low enough that they didn’t need sunscreen, and the water wasn’t overly crowded with kids goofing around or adults twice her size who could barely swim. Five pm was “me” time, and when me time included Brayden, it was that much better.
“It only took you half of July and all of August to realize I pretty much know everything there is to know about being in the water,” Izzie teased, staring at his woven rope necklace that had a pirate coin dangling from it. “You surfers are all alike. Cocky.”
“Hey,” Brayden argued even as he smiled an extra-adorable grin. “It’s not cocky; it’s called confident. There is a difference. You lifeguards seem to forget that.”
Izzie coyly pushed her wavy, shoulder-skimming brown bob out of her hazel eyes. “It’s kind of hard not to when we’re pulling you guys out of a rip current at least once a day.”
Brayden gave her a sharp look. “I told you a million times, I was fine.”
“You didn’t look fine,” Izzie reminded him, wrinkling her freckled nose at the memory. “You were going—”
“Against the current instead of with it,” Brayden interrupted, and shook his head. The dimple in his left cheek began to form. “I’m never going to live that down, am I?”
“Nope,” Izzie said, feeling at ease, like she always did around him. They were just friends—friends in a teasing, sort of flirty way—but for some reason it didn’t matter. Well, it mattered a little, but they had such a good time together that she almost forgot he wasn’t her boyfriend. She knew practically everything there was to know about him, from how much he loved to surf to his favorite iPod playlist. They liked the same bands, preferred water over dry land, and would take a slice of pizza over a hot dog any day. Maybe that was why she was beginning to dread the thought of school starting in two weeks. When would she see Brayden then? They hung out only at the beach. She wasn’t even sure where he lived. Whenever she asked, his cryptic answer was always “Nearby.”
Brayden looked at the shore as he bobbed up and down on his board, and Izzie tried not to ogle his toned arms. “So, ready to try surfing again? Maybe you can actually stay on the board today.”
Izzie pulled herself up on her board and floated next to him, their tan knees touching. Brayden’s, she noticed, were beaten up and bruised from some crash landings. “Do we have to keep doing this?” she groaned. “Why do I need to know how to surf?”
“I told you—so you can do it with me. Let’s try this again, okay?” Brayden instructed, his square jawline set. “I’ll make you a deal. If you can manage to get up this time, I’ll buy at Scoops.”
Izzie grinned. “You’re on, surfer boy.”
She reached down and attached her board’s leg strap to her ankle. She’d learned her lesson about being untethered last week when she had to swim after a runaway board. Then she paddled after Brayden, trying to remember his instructions—when to stand up, how to lean left or right into the wave for balance, how to hold her legs. Brayden had given her this board after he bought one that had a pirate ship on it. The gift had come with one condition—that Izzie keep both boards in the lifeguard hut for him. Brayden said his board didn’t fit in the back of his Jeep. He had just turned sixteen and his parents had bought him the truck for his birthday, which led Izzie to assume that Brayden didn’t live that close to Harborside, because she lived there and no kid she knew owned a car, let alone a new one.
Izzie looked for the balance point Brayden had marked with wax and tried not to “cork” the board, as he’d called it. Something about too much weight in the back. She watched Brayden almost fifteen feet ahead of her—the proper safety distance—and saw him effortlessly stand up on the board as a wave began to crest. She tried to remember what he’d said as she got closer to the waves and pushed up on the board, keeping her legs on the stringer and gripping the board with her feet. She was supposed to look like a sumo wrestler, and it was working. She was up! Was Brayden seeing this? Even her feet were in the right positions! Then two seconds later, she fell and cursed herself for looking down, which is what Brayden had told her not to do. The surf was swirling around her, and as she swam to the surface, her board whacked her in the head. She dragged the board behind her as she hit the beach a few minutes later with a scowl on her face.
Brayden watched her as he stood next to two kids playing in the sand with plastic army men. His board was staked next to him, giving him the appearance of a guy who had just won a Teen Choice Award surfboard. Brayden probably could win, for looks alone, if he lived twenty-five hundred miles away in California and was discovered by a film agent. Robert Pattinson’s mug had nothing on Brayden Townsend’s.
“I can’t believe you looked down, Iz! It was going so well!” Brayden said, as if she needed reminding.
Izzie rubbed her head. “I know, I know, and I’m going to pay for it with a big, fat headache.”
Brayden put his arm around her, smelling like a mix of coconut and salt water. His black wet suit hugged his taut stomach and Izzie felt her breath get stuck in her throat. “You’ll get it eventually, lifeguard. Or maybe not.” He rubbed her head like she were a kid brother. “Tell you what: I’ll buy even though you screwed up.” She started to protest. “You save that paltry salary of yours.”
Fifteen minutes later, after they had both toweled off and Izzie had pulled on frayed jean shorts and a tank top over her suit, they flip-flopped across the crowded boardwalk toward Scoops, where her friend Kylie Brooks worked. Izzie knew it sounded silly to have such deep affection for a place, but almost everything she loved about Harborside was on these planks. She’d learned how to play Dance Dance Revolution at the arcade, scored her first hole in one with her mom at the Mermaid Putt-Putt, made pizza with Grams at Harbor’s Finest, held her first job at Scoops, and had her first kiss on the amusement park roller coaster. But what she still loved best about Harborside Pier was the community center. Sandwiched between the boardwalk and the main drag, the community center had been her family ever since her mom died. And Izzie had very little family to speak of.
“Look who’s here! The beach bum and the lifeguard!” Kylie yelled as a tiny bell on the door announced Brayden’s and Izzie’s arrival at the homemade-ice-cream parlor. Kylie’s loud voice startled some of the customers eating at the tiny tables. Izzie and Brayden walked up to the long counter, where Kylie was making an ice-cream sundae. “So what are you guys having?” Kylie asked. She slid the sundae over to the startled customer and leaned toward Izzie, her long blond hair falling in front of her face.
“Um, hello?” said a cool voice. “I believe we were next.”
Izzie noticed a well-dressed couple in their twenties at the other end of the counter. The guy nudged the girl, who gave him a sour face. “What? You wanted homemade ice cream, right?” she whispered. “And I want to leave this boardwalk before some pickpocket dips into my Tory Burch bag.”
The guy rolled his eyes. “Hannah, you’re overreacting.”
“You heard what the taxi driver said,” she said in hushed tones. “I know you like to ‘keep it real,’ but I’m not hanging out all night on some dodgy boardwalk when our hotel has a private beach.”
Harborside Pier may have been as popular as it ever was, but it was dogged that summer with stories about teen gangs and how shady the area had become. One of the pier shops had been broken into and robbed, and a knife fight earlier this summer between locals and gang members had turned ugly. No one Izzie knew had been involved. Her friends hung out under the boardwalk at night, but they weren’t thieves or hoodlums. There just weren’t a lot of places for them to hang. Izzie knew she didn’t live in Beverly Hills, but she also knew Harborside wasn’t unsafe if you knew how to navigate it. She wished she had the nerve to tell the customer that.
“Kylie, you should help them first,” Izzie said instead. “They were waiting.”
Kylie rolled her eyes and pulled at her stained white Scoops tee. “Whatever.” Like most of Izzie’s friends, Kylie didn’t mask her feelings, even if they stung. “What do you want?”
Brayden glanced at his diver’s watch. “I’ve got to check in at home. Order for me?” he asked Izzie, then winked. “She’ll give you extra toppings.” He pulled his phone out of his orange backpack and walked outside as Izzie scanned the day’s ice-cream flavor chart.
When Kylie was done serving Miss Uptight her kid-size fat-free vanilla cone, she planted herself in front of Izzie and grinned slyly. “So?” she said meaningfully.
“So what?” Izzie repeated slowly.
“So have you told Mr. Hot Surfer Dude that you want to be the topping on his soft-serve cone yet?” Kylie asked.
Izzie felt her face flush. What if Brayden had heard Kylie say that? She turned around slowly and to her relief saw Brayden’s butt leaning against the glass window as he talked on the phone outside. “Kylie, geez!” Izzie said, her color returning to normal. “I told you a million times. We’re just friends.”
Kylie gave her a knowing look. “You don’t act like just friends.”
Izzie looked down at the ice cream under the glass counter and stared at the Cookies-and-Cream tub. If she looked at Kylie, her face might give something away. “Well, we are, so would you lay off? Besides, I don’t have time for a boyfriend.”
“That’s true,” Kylie said, walking away to wash the ice-cream scoopers in the small sink. “I don’t even know how you have time to sleep between work, swim practice, taking care of Grams, food shopping…”
Izzie shrugged and pushed her still-damp hair behind her ears. “It’s no big deal.”
“It’s a huge deal,” Kylie disagreed, and then smiled slowly. “Which is why I think you need a little fun.” She looked at Brayden’s butt and sighed. “And Mr. Hot Surfer Dude definitely looks like fun.”
“Kylie,” Izzie said, starting to feel both annoyed and uncomfortable. “Drop it.”
Kylie rolled her eyes again. “Fine. You should snap that boy up, though. If you don’t, believe me, someone else will.”
The bell hanging from the door jingled, and Brayden walked back in, his flip-flops making a scuffing sound against the sandy floor. “Did you decide what you want yet?”
“Oh, she knows what she wants,” Kylie said, staring at Izzie intently. “She just hasn’t figured out how to order it.”
“A scoop of Oreo, a scoop of Marshmallow Supreme, and one of Butter Toffee,” Izzie said quickly, “with gummy bears.” Brayden looked amused. “I’m a growing girl.”
“No complaints here,” he said. “I like a girl who eats.”
Izzie tried to think of the appropriate comeback, but before she could, she felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket. She didn’t recognize the number, but she picked up anyway. “Hello?” She instantly regretted her decision. “No. I’m at the beach.” Pause. “Nope. I have to stop at the community center first. I forgot my swim meet registration forms.” Her smile slowly faded, and the room began to spin around her. “Yeah, I can be there at six thirty. Bye.” She snapped the phone shut, her eyes blinking rapidly, and grabbed the counter to steady herself. This couldn’t be happening. “I’m going to have to take you up on that free ice cream offer tomorrow,” she said quietly, not looking at Brayden.
“Everything okay?” he asked, his brow wrinkling with worry.
“Did Grams lock herself out of the house again?” Kylie asked as she finished Izzie’s order and slid it toward her.
Izzie pushed it back. “No, I just have to get home.” She avoided their stares.
“Let me drive you,” Brayden suggested.
Great. For the first time, Brayden was offering her a ride, and she had to say no. “I’ve got to go to the center first,” Izzie explained, looking up at him. He had to be at least six foot two. “Besides, I’m only a few blocks from there. You stay and hang out. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Brayden grinned. “Okay, because you, my friend, seriously need some more surf lessons.”
Izzie forced herself to groan playfully. “Don’t I know it? See you, Kylie,” she managed with a smile even though she felt like the floor was going to fall out from under her.
Leaving Scoops, Izzie unlocked her dirt bike from the rack and raced down the boardwalk bike path, feeling the wind whip her hair around her face as if she were at the top of the Ferris wheel. Then she slowed down her pedaling and reminded herself of the truth: She wasn’t on the Ferris wheel. She would soon be on her way home, where her social worker, Barbara Sanchez, was waiting.
The questions ran through Izzie’s head almost too fast for her to keep up. Was Barbara there to push foster care again? Barbara and Grams had been discussing the idea ever since Grams’s health started going downhill last year, but Izzie was still vehemently against it. When Grams remembered things (which felt like ages ago now), she had said another option was to find a distant relative to take care of Izzie, but Izzie hated that idea, too. She had lived with her grandmother ever since her mom brought her home from the hospital as a baby. Izzie had never met her dad. Her mom hadn’t even told anyone who the guy was. So it was Grams who became Izzie’s legal guardian when her mom died in a car crash a few years ago. Now that Grams was sick, it was Izzie’s turn to return the favor. Grams was the only family she had left, and she wasn’t going to let the state of North Carolina take that away from her.
Izzie pressed hard on her dirt bike brakes, the tires squeaking loudly to a halt in front of Chicken, Ribs and More. She let the familiar smell of barbecue sauce and crisp sweet-potato fries wash over her as the reasons behind Barbara’s house call began to overwhelm her. Izzie’s thoughts were darker than she would have liked, and she shut her eyes to block out the scenarios. Without thinking, her feet went back onto the bike pedals, and within minutes she was in front of the Harborside Community Center.
HCC wasn’t much to look at. Weeds poked up around the cracked, aging stucco, and the windows had a permanent film from years of neglect. As rundown and forgotten as it looked from the outside, though, once Izzie walked through the glass doors, the building had a different story to tell. The community center was bustling, loud, and as cheerful as the cinder-block walls that had been painted in vibrant yellow-and-blue beach scenes. Hanging from corkboard strips were bright flyers and banners screaming things in large print like upcoming samba lessons, teen bake sales, Xbox Kinect tournaments, and directions to the next swim meet. Summer camp was winding down for the day just as some of the adult evening classes were starting, and the halls were a mix of young and old voices. Izzie knew most of them and said hello or waved as she walked down the hallway toward the pool.
Mimi Grayson wrapped her tiny wet arms around Izzie’s waist as Izzie passed her. “Are you done saving lives, Izzie?” Mimi wanted to know.
Izzie patted the top of her curly hair. “For today.” She gave her a mock stern look. “What about you? Have you been practicing your lifeguard training today, too?”
Mimi nodded. “Just like you showed me at swim class this morning.” She mimicked a frog, showing Izzie her breaststroke. It seemed to be the easiest stroke for Mimi to master, so they’d concentrated on that one first.
“Perfect,” Izzie said with a smile, and then began swinging her arms in a circular motion forward. “Tomorrow we’ll work on this one, okay?”
“I can’t do that one.” Mimi’s face scrunched up in frustration. “My arms don’t go fast enough.”
“What do I always tell you?” Izzie asked, and then the two of them said it together: “No guts, no glory.” She nudged Mimi with her elbow, and the girl smiled. “I’ll see you at nine am.”
“Thanks!” Mimi pulled her falling towel around her tighter as she ran down the hall.
“No running in flip-flops!” Izzie called after her with a smile, then turned and paused as she always did outside the pool doorway and looked at the glass case of swim team trophies and pictures. Her fingers grazed the glass in front of the swim team picture from 1988. Her mom’s young face smiled back at her. She was taller and skinnier than Izzie was at the same age, but Coach Bing said they had the same spark and determination.
“I can’t do it,” Izzie remembered saying to her mom like it was yesterday. She was five. They were in the center’s pool, and she was clinging to her mom’s torso like it was a life preserver. “I won’t be able to breathe!”
“Isabelle, relax,” her mother said calmly. She set Izzie on the side of the pool. “No one can breathe underwater unless they have an oxygen tank or a snorkel tube. Well”—she scratched her chin—“except for the fish and the baby belugas.”
Belugas were Izzie’s favorite sea creature. She and her mom loved the Raffi song about the little whale. It was Izzie’s goal in life to swim with one, and that would never happen if she never learned how to swim.
“But you go underwater,” Izzie reminded her. “And you do, like, a zillion laps!”
Her mom nodded. “Yep, but I still can’t breathe underwater.”
“How do you do it?” Izzie folded her wet arms across her chest to keep from shivering. The water was warm, but the air felt cold. She watched other kids happily jumping in around her. They looked like they were having so much fun.
Her mother looked at her seriously. “I do what I’ve been telling you to do, Isabelle. I breathe out.” She demonstrated. “I take deep breaths. We start by blowing bubbles, remember?”
Something inside Izzie clicked. In her hysteria of having her face underwater, she always seemed to forget that bubbles part.
Her mom rubbed her back. “No guts, no glory, kiddo. Want to give it another shot?”
Izzie noticed the swim team sign-up sheet for older girls on the far wall. She had always wanted to be on the team, like her mom had been. There was only one way that was going to happen. She slipped out of her mom’s grasp and back into the pool. “No guts, no glory,” she repeated, and then submerged herself fully, bubbles escaping from her nose.
“Izzie! You missed me that much already?” Coach Bing pulled Izzie back from her memories. She saw he had on his usual attire: swim shorts and a Harborside Community Center tee. Coach always said you know you have a good job when you get to wear shorts and swimwear to work every day. He opened the heavy pool doors and let Izzie enter first. “Are you doing another workout? You were already here this morning!” Kids’ voices bounced off the cavernous ceiling as Izzie followed Coach into the pool area, which smelled overwhelmingly of chlorine. She watched the senior citizens glide slowly by in the lap lanes, stopping every once in a while to give an annoyed glare to the kids splashing alongside them.
“I forgot to get my permission slip for the next meet,” Izzie spoke loudly to be heard over the kids. “I wanted Grams to sign it tonight.” Liar! a little voice in her head yelled. Grams hadn’t been able to hold a pen for months. Izzie had become a pro at forging her signature on everything from permission slips and report cards to Grams’s Social Security checks (how else would they buy groceries?).
Coach Bing looked at her kindly. “Izzie, I know you sign them yourself.”
So she hadn’t been fooling him at all. How many other people knew about her forgeries?
He patted her shoulder. “It’s fine. I signed it. Your social worker said it was okay. You can still go to meets.”
Izzie nodded, trying not to show her embarrassment. “Thanks, Coach.”
“No problem,” he said, and they both felt water pelt their legs. “Hey! Let’s keep the water in the pool, not out,” Coach turned around and barked to the increasingly rowdy kids in the pool. They stopped splashing immediately. Coach Bing’s bark was much worse than his bite. He turned back to Izzie. “So how is Grams doing, anyway?”
“Great,” Izzie lied again. It was easier this way. Otherwise she got those pitying, worried glances, and worried glances led to calls to Barbara Sanchez. Izzie knew everyone meant well—Harborside Community Center and her neighbors had been looking out for her for years. They knew her family, they knew her mom, and one thing they’d never do is let Izzie feel alone.
Coach Bing didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t say otherwise. “I was going to give you this tomorrow,” he said, and led the way to his office. She stood in the doorway and watched as he opened a small refrigerator and took out an aluminum tray. “Tara made lasagna for you and Grams. Oh, and Ricky from Harbor’s Finest said to tell you he’s delivering spaghetti, meatballs, and pizza on Friday.”
“Thanks,” Izzie said gratefully, and grinned. “Although, you know if you keep carb-loading me and Grams like this, I’ll sink to the bottom of the pool at the next meet.”
He chuckled. “I’m not worried. You move and swim too much to ever become an anchor.” There was a knock at the door, and they both looked up.
An older woman, dripping wet, glared at them. “Could you get those children to stop swinging from the ropes of the lap lane?” The coach and Izzie looked at each other.
“I’ll let you go,” Izzie said, suppressing a grin.
As Izzie left the pool, her eyes darted to the clock on the wall and she frowned. It was 6:30 pm. She should have been home by now, which was her first problem. Her second was still Barbara Sanchez. Her social worker didn’t make social calls, which meant if she was coming by the house to see Izzie, the news couldn’t be good.
When Grams had a good memory day—as opposed to a “Who are you? I don’t have a granddaughter!” day—she liked to talk about Harborside, the early years. Grams’s version of Harborside in the year Izzie was born sounded like it was plucked from a Hallmark movie (considering Grams’s memory these days, she might have confused the two): neighbors bringing neighbors homemade apple pie, block parties, softball teams for grown men, and streets so safe that no one locked their doors. Harborside today was very different. The cereal factory shut down ten years ago, tanking the real estate market and causing foreclosure signs to pop up like weeds, and Harborside suffered a quick but brutal downward spiral.
This was the Harborside Izzie knew well, and while she was used to it, she was still smart about how she navigated her hometown. Take her bike ride home, for example. Leaving the community center, Izzie knew that if she cut through sketchy Shore Park, she’d be home in seven minutes. But she also knew that biking through the park was asking for trouble. Besides, the town padlocked it shut at six thirty. Option B was to take Second Avenue. The route was longer and safer, even with the guys hanging out in front of the convenience stores, check-cashing shops, bars, and small fruit stands who leered at her when she rode past. Option B it is, Izzie thought. She put her right foot back on the pedal and pushed forward, making sure she pedaled as slowly as she could without falling off.
Before long, Izzie was heading toward Hancock Street and then making a right turn onto her block. She wove around a few broken beer bottles and waved to the five-year-old McGraw twins, who were playing in their overgrown front yard. She avoided eye contact when she passed a group of boys who looked like they had nothing to do.
Izzie could see Barbara’s red Taurus parked in front of her house. She pushed open the broken front gate and wheeled her bike around back to lock it in the shed, trying to see 22 Hancock the way Barbara probably did. The lawn needed a good—okay, major—mow. There was graffiti on the fence and there was a crack in the bathroom window on the second floor, most likely made by a BB gun. (A group of kids had been targeting windows and parked cars all summer like they were hunting deer.) Izzie took the porch steps two at a time, making sure to miss the one that was broken in half, and walked slowly to the front door. Taking a deep breath, she put her key in the lock and walked inside.
“I’m home!” she announced with as much fake enthusiasm as she could muster. Izzie had learned long ago how to play things with her social worker: Think of Barbara like a friend, even if she wasn’t one. The more upbeat Izzie made life sound, the quicker Barbara got off her case.
Barbara was sitting at the cherry wood dining table, which had been in the Scott family for more than a hundred years. From the looks of it, the floral wallpaper had been around just as long. The only thing that didn’t need replacing was the hardwood floor. Whenever Grams had people over—or, at least, when she used to have people over—someone would inevitably comment on how beautiful the floor was. Grams would smile proudly and say something like “Us oldies hold up nicely. No one is trading me or this floor in anytime soon.” It was hard to believe that the frail woman staring out the dining room window was the same one who’d raised her only grandchild by herself when her own daughter and husband died within a year of each other. Izzie was around ten at the time.
Izzie planted a kiss on her grandmother’s head. “Hey, Grams, how was your day?” Her thinning hair was combed back so far it made her forehead look huge, and her blue eyes were like cloudy marbles. Her grandmother didn’t respond. She stared out the window like she hadn’t heard her.
Izzie looked at Barbara and smiled forcefully. “Hi, Barbara,” she said with added enthusiasm. Barbara had been her social worker for the last year. Of all the social workers she’d had since they’d started coming about three years ago, when Grams’s decline started, Barbara was Izzie’s favorite. If you could call any social worker who came to check out your living conditions a favorite.
Barbara glanced at her wrist, sliding back the sleeve of her navy button-down shirt to look at her Timex. Her sleek black hair had gotten so long it hung over the blue leather notebook she carried for appointments. “I was starting to get worried, Izzie,” Barbara said by way of greeting. “We agreed to meet at six thirty.”
Izzie made an apologetic face. “I’m sorry. I lost track of time talking to Coach Bing.” She looked at her grandmother, who had barely moved her fingers since Izzie walked in. “He says hi, Grams. He sent a lasagna for dinner. His wife made it.” Izzie nodded to Barbara and placed the tray on the dining room table. “People send us meals at least three times a week. Our friends are so generous.”
Barbara’s brown eyes bore into Izzie’s skull. “That they are.” She tapped her pen.
Izzie noticed the move right away. Barbara was nervous. Izzie could read people well, and she had spent enough time with Barbara to know what kind of mood she was in. Tonight, she was uncomfortable, and that made Izzie uncomfortable, so she just kept talking. “Yeah, it is nice, isn’t it? That’s what I love about Harborside. We take care of each other. Coach Bing gives Grams and me these incredible meals, and I’m teaching swim lessons for free at the community center.” Izzie pointed to a gold medal hanging on the mirror in the dining room. “First place in the last meet. Grams was cheering me on, right, Grams?” Cheering was a stretch, but Grams was there. Their neighbor brought her. His daughter was on the swim team, too.
Barbara’s face was unreadable as she said, “You told me, Izzie. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks!” Izzie squeaked. Ugh. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep up the sickeningly sweet cheerleader act. It was giving her a headache. “It’s been a great season for us this summer. So has work. Lifeguarding is amazing, and I’m making almost eight dollars an hour. I’m one of the youngest lifeguards they’ve ever had, but Brian says he hired me because I’m so determined and focused.” God, did she really just pat herself on the back?
“Izzie,” Barbara interrupted, “you can drop the cheerleader routine. It’s not you.”
Izzie fiddled with the tiny silver band she wore on her middle finger. “I know.” She sighed. “I thought it might lighten the mood.”
Barbara smiled. “Thanks for trying.” She pulled out a heavy dining room chair next to her. “Why don’t you sit down so we can talk?”
Izzie grabbed the back of Grams’s chair and hung on. “I think I’d rather stand.”
“You might want to sit,” Barbara said gently.
“Listen, if this is about Grams’s care, she’s doing amazing on this new medicine Dr. Finniman gave her. He said her hip looks stronger than ever and she might not need a second replacement. She may even be able to lose the cane.”
“That’s great, but—” Barbara looked at the cuckoo clock ticking on the wall.
The silence in the room was so complete, the pendulum sounded like a marching band. Izzie quickly moved to the doorway between the dining room and kitchen. She pointed desperately to the fridge, where a dry-erase board was marked with different colors. “I charted all her pills, and they’re labeled in containers on the counter. Most days her nurse is here and helps her take them, but sometimes her friend Ida stops by. We put the paperwork in to Medicare to get her a full-time aide and—”
“She’s not getting a full-time aide, Izzie,” Barbara said, cutting her off. “I spoke to Medicare, and they denied the claim. They feel she’d be better suited for a nursing home that has physical therapy on-site.” She kept talking to keep Izzie from interrupting. “We knew this day was coming. Your grandmother and I have been preparing for this. You’ve been doing a great job taking care of things, but that’s not your job. Your job is to be a kid.”
“I’m not a kid,” Izzie said sharply. The time to act sweet was over. “I’m fifteen.”
“You’re still a minor, and someone should be taking care of you, not the other way around.” Barbara stared sadly at Izzie. “Your grandmother and I have had a solution to this problem in place for months, but we’ve been waiting for the details to be finalized. I think once you’ve had time to process what I’m going to tell you, you’ll be very happy, Izzie.”
“What do you mean, you and my grandmother?” Izzie glanced in Grams’s direction. “She doesn’t know what day it is. How can she make a decision about her care or mine?”
“Last winter, she called me and said she had found some papers about your family history,” Barbara explained. “She was very lucid. She said she’d found an uncle of yours on her side who has a wife and three kids and lives only twenty minutes away. She was very excited.”
Izzie shifted back and forth. Her flip-flops suddenly felt very heavy. “Grams called you?” Why would Grams tell Barbara about an uncle Grams never knew before she told her own granddaughter? Grams and Izzie confided in each other about everything. At least, they used to.
“She was insistent that I call your uncle,” Barbara explained. “She had already spoken to him herself and they met, and”—Barbara’s pen started tapping crazily—“he wants you to live with them.” Izzie’s jaw dropped. “Your grandmother wanted you to go. She drew up papers for the transfer of guardianship so that when this day came, we’d be ready.”
The cuckoo bird popped out of the clock with a loud chirp, startling them both as the clock chimed seven. The bird made seven chirps while Barbara and Izzie stared intently at each other.
Izzie shook her head, feeling a lot like that bird—trapped. “No,” she said, wondering if she’d heard Barbara wrong and hoping that she had. “Grams wouldn’t do that.”
“She wanted you well taken care of, Izzie.” Barbara stood up. “She knew she wasn’t up to the task anymore, and she wanted to put things in order.”
“No,” Izzie said more urgently, and took two steps back, stumbling slightly. Barbara reached out to steady her, but Izzie pushed her away and glanced at Grams. Her grandmother barely flinched. “We’re a team. She always said that. I’m not leaving her just because she’s having a little setback.”
“This isn’t a setback, Izzie,” Barbara said bluntly. “The woman you know is gone. She saw that coming, and she found a way for you to avoid foster care. This is what she wanted.”
Izzie felt her breathing become rapid. She looked around wildly, wondering what she should do. She wanted to run—far. But where was she going to go?
“Your uncle’s name is Bill Monroe,” Barbara told her, as if the name should have had some sort of meaning. It didn’t. “He’s a state senator, and they live in Emerald Cove. You’re going to attend private school and get opportunities you’ve never had. Most people would kill for a chance like this.”
Izzie looked at the floor. It felt like it was moving. “I’m happy here.”
“You’ll still be able to see Grams,” Barbara continued like she didn’t hear her. “Your uncle made sure Grams will have the best care at the nursing home, and on Fridays they even…”
Izzie felt a ringing in her ears, and Barbara’s voice began drifting away. The room felt like it was closing in on her. She ran to her grandmother and shook her shoulders. “Grams! Say something! Tell Barbara not to do this.”
Her grandmother’s blue eyes lit up with recognition, and Izzie felt a sense of relief. Grams could fix things before they spun out of control. She’d kept them together this long. But Izzie’s momentary relief vanished when her grandmother started talking.
“Chloe, when did you get here?” Grams asked. “I was hoping you’d stop by before you went to New York.” She wagged a finger at Izzie. “I still don’t think you should be going. That town is trouble, I’m telling you.”
Izzie froze. She could feel Barbara’s eyes on her. Chloe was Izzie’s mom. “Grams, it’s me,” she said quietly. “Your granddaughter, Isabelle.”
Grams obviously didn’t hear her. “Chloe, it’s drafty in here. Can you go get my shawl?”
Grams’s shawl was already around her shoulders. “Okay, Grams,” Izzie said, and pretended to put the shawl on her. She blinked rapidly to hold back tears. She was not going to let Barbara see her cry.
“Izzie, she knew what was happening to her,” Barbara said softly. “She was so happy when she found family for you. She wanted to make sure you had what you needed in life.”
“I need her,” Izzie said desperately, pleading with Barbara now. “If you just give us some time, I’m sure this new medicine will kick in and Grams will be back to her old self and…”
The doorbell rang. Barbara didn’t flinch, but Izzie did. She looked out the dining room window and saw a white van that had Coastal Assisted Living Center on it. A man and a woman with ID tags around their necks walked up the path. Izzie’s heart started to beat rapidly again.
“The nursing home is here to help gather some of your grandmother’s things for her move,” Barbara said quietly. “The rest you can sort through before the house is sold, and the lawyer your grandmother hired will help with the house and the furnishings and…”
“Wait, this is happening tonight?” Izzie felt as if a boa constrictor had wrapped itself around her heart. The tears started to come even though she willed them not to.
“They’ll take Grams and settle her in, and I’ll go with you to your uncle’s,” Barbara explained. “You can have half an hour to pack, and anything else you need, I’ll send later.”
Izzie had lived here for her whole life and she had half an hour to put her world in a duffel bag and say good-bye? No. This was wrong! The room felt like it was spinning. Her thoughts came fast and furious. Mimi was expecting her to teach her freestyle tomorrow morning.…She had a lifeguard shift from one to five.…Brayden had promised to give her another surfing lesson.…Then there was the swim meet on Saturday. How could she just disappear without saying good-bye?
“I can’t go tonight,” Izzie insisted. “I made plans for tomorrow already.”
“We’ll let everyone know,” Barbara said kindly, and handed her a large black duffel bag that had been hanging in the hallway closet. Izzie had no clue how Barbara knew it was there. “It’s going to be okay, Izzie. I promise.”
Izzie wasn’t so sure of that. In fact, she wasn’t sure anything in her life would be okay again.
The air at the Emerald Cove Country Club pool was so oppressively hot and sticky that Mirabelle Monroe started to worry she was going to wind up looking like a broiled lobster. “I’m caving!” she announced as a sweat bead rolled down her forehead and landed on the tip of her nose. “I don’t want skin cancer! I’m putting on SPF 50!” Mira reached under her lounge chair for the canvas tote that held her sunblock, but a slim, tanned hand swatted hers away.
“Mirabelle!” Savannah Ingram surprised Mira by using her full name. She stared at Mira stonily, looking like one of those überserious cops on those police shows Mira’s dad was obsessed with. “We swore we’d have a deep bronze by the time school starts, and sunblock will ruin everything.” Savannah snatched Mira’s tote away and placed it safely on the other side of her lounge chair. “If you put any more sunblock on those pale legs of yours, people are going to mistake you for an alpaca.”
Mira sat up carefully, covering her chest to keep her favorite green bikini top from sliding off and giving the entire Emerald Cove Country Club a peep show. “An alpaca?” she deadpanned, then started to giggle.
Savannah’s long pale blond hair was scattered over the top of the lounge chair like a crown. She sat back up and started to laugh, too. “So maybe I was up late last night and caught a teensy bit of an alpaca farm infomercial.” She stopped laughing and looked at Mira. “Tell anyone and die.”
Mira pretended to zip her lips. She threw her long, definitely not pasty legs over the side of the chair, leaned over Savannah, and snatched her bag. Savannah scowled at her. “There’s more to proving you had a good summer than just looking tan,” Mira said, and squirted a huge glob of white cream on her right thigh. Savannah made a skeptical grunt as Mira continued talking. “Okay, so I didn’t spend my summer in Paris like you, but we did vacation in Costa Rica for two weeks, and I saw ninety percent of North Carolina doing campaign stuff with Dad. Most important, Taylor and I are better than ever.” That was the truth. With half the football team at their summer homes in Maine or the Florida Keys, Mira had had her boyfriend all to herself, and it had been bliss. The football team as a whole could be suffocating. They practically shared jockstraps.
Savannah examined one of her pale pink nails. “I guess you didn’t totally waste eight weeks off.” She smiled at Mira. “Now next summer, that will be pure frosting. Once your dad goes from state senator to a U.S. Senate seat, we’ll be jetting to Washington for private movie screenings with the president’s daughters.” She stared dreamily at the sun at the thought of it.
“If my dad wins a seat in the U.S. Senate,” Mira corrected her. Her attention turned to a puddle of water near their lounge chairs. The sun dipped behind a welcome cloud, and the shadow in a puddle near their lounge chairs caught Mira’s eye. It reminded her of a galloping horse. “He hasn’t even run yet,” she said absentmindedly.
“He’ll win,” Savannah said, and sipped her iced tea. “My dad will make sure of that. He’s going to throw lots of green at your dad’s campaign once it becomes official.” She raised one eyebrow thoughtfully. “Even if you do look like an alpaca.” Mira threw her towel at Savannah, who ducked. Her eyes locked on someone across the pool.
Mira didn’t have to look hard to see who Savannah was staring at. Her best friend’s mouth curved into a small smile as she watched a pudgy girl at the snack bar. The girl was wearing an unforgiving tankini that bulged around her middle. She stood awkwardly with a friend and drank a milk shake. Mira’s mouth watered at the sight of it.
“Kristen Thompson should not be allowed near dairy.” Savannah’s Southern twang dripped with disdain. “Look at what it’s done to her thighs this summer!” Almost as if Kristen could hear her, she looked up and stared at Savannah and Mira. She gave an awkward wave. “Hi, Kristen!” Savannah yelled across the crowded pool. “Cute suit!” Then through a forced smile, she added quietly, “That girl should have to wear a muumuu at the club. She’s a total eyesore.”
Kristen wasn’t a fool. “Thanks!” she yelled back, even as she pulled helplessly at the bottom of her tankini, hoping that would give her more coverage. It didn’t.
Even after being friends with Savannah for three years, Mira still felt uncomfortable when she went on a bashing bender. If you were one of the lucky few to be part of Savannah’s inner circle, she treated you like royalty. But if you were on Savannah’s “not” list, Emerald Prep’s unofficial Queen Bee could be more cutting than a switchblade. Kristen’s downfall had been questioning Savannah’s world history oral presentation in front of the entire class. Savannah hadn’t forgotten. Ninety percent of Emerald Prep worshipped Savannah and yet 87 percent of them never got a second glance unless they were being made fun of.
Before Mira could comment, a huge pair of arms wrapped around her waist, practically lifting her off the lounge chair. “Taylor!” Mira’s voice was high. “You’re soaked!”
Taylor Covington clung tighter as he kissed her neck. “Of course I am. I just swam twenty-five laps. Did you see my impressive arm strokes?” He showed his bulging biceps to all within range.
It was hard to miss Taylor even when his arms were covered. He was almost six foot four and had that California boy look that said he should be catching a wave rather than taking an English lit exam. He had layered blond hair and pale blue eyes the color of Mira’s screensaver on her Mac, and he looked good in both a swimsuit and a tux. Mira’s brother Hayden called Taylor “Ken.” He really was Barbie’s perfect boyfriend come to life. And to the envy of most of the girls in their school, he was all hers.
Mira grabbed Taylor’s bicep and squeezed. “Nice. You looked great out there, babe.” She hadn’t seen him doing laps, but he didn’t have to know that. Taylor’s shadow had changed the reflection in the puddle again. Mira thought it looked like a small dog. Or maybe it was more like a cat.
Taylor’s blue eyes brightened. “Thanks, babe.” He leaned down and kissed her softly.
“Get a room.” Savannah rolled her eyes and lay back down on her lounge chair, spreading her hair carefully all around her.
Taylor smirked. “If your man were here, you’d be all about the PDA. When is he going to be done with that boathouse, anyway?”
“Who knows? Why he has to help build it is beyond me. That’s what contractors are for.” She looked at the Movado on her wrist. “I’ve texted him four times to find out when he’s getting up here. It’s three pm and he hasn’t replied once.”
“It’s three?” Taylor jumped up. “I have to hit the showers and be at practice at four.” He grabbed a towel from a passing pool worker carrying a large stack. “You’re stopping by, right?” he asked Mira. “We’re going to run some drills. Then the team is going to Corky’s for dinner.” He rubbed her bare shoulders. “Maybe you and I can get ice cream alone after.”
It’s football season again. Mira sighed. She adored her boyfriend, but he tended to be needy during football season—and by needy, she meant needing to see his teammates twenty-four-seven, with Mira glued to his side. They did what Taylor wanted, when he wanted, and sometimes Mira felt more like a glorified cheerleader than a girlfriend. Maybe it would be different this fall. Taylor did just suggest they do something alone, didn’t he? Mira stared at the puddle again. This time the reflection reminded her of a gorgeous peony. She really wished she could sketch this.
Then Taylor’s shadow blocked the reflection and just like that, the picture was gone. “So I’ll see you later?” he asked again, still waiting for an answer.
Mira nodded. “Yes. Sorry. I wouldn’t miss it.”
“You would if you had plans with me,” Savannah said once Taylor had walked away. “You don’t really want to sit on the bleachers and watch them practice, do you? Wouldn’t you rather be in the cool, air-conditioned mall, school-clothes shopping with me?”
Mira thought for a moment. “That does sound more appealing, but Taylor would kill me. He already thinks I hate the entire football team.”
“Please. Just because you don’t want to date them along with your boyfriend doesn’t mean you hate them.” Savannah finished her iced tea. “Where is a waiter when you need one? We have to get to the mall!”
“I didn’t say yes yet,” Mira said with mock indignation.
Savannah shook her empty glass, the ice clinking loudly, and smiled. “As if you were really going to say no to me.”
Savannah may have been the most popular girl at Emerald Prep, but when it came to fashion, she was still a bit lacking. That’s where Mira came in. The two clicked during seventh grade right around the time Mira’s dad won his state senate seat and Savannah’s personal shopper moved to New York. Mira became Savannah’s new stylist, and Savannah gave Mira the runner-up spot in her clique. Sometimes Mira still couldn’t believe she was now one of the most popular girls at school.
Savannah waved madly at a waiter across the pool. “I thought we’d start at Nordstrom, and then if we don’t like anything, we can move on to Anthropologie and…”
Mira’s phone went off in her bag. Cell phones weren’t allowed on club grounds, not that anyone she knew actually abided by the rule.
LUCAS’S CELL: Clear your schedules ASAP. Your dad has called an emergency family meeting at Buona Terra restaurant at 5:30 PM sharp. Everyone must attend. Call if you need me to send a ride.
Mira pushed her hair behind her ears. “Scratch the mall plans and football practice,” she said mournfully, and gathered her things. When Lucas Hale sent a text, Mira moved quickly. Her dad had his campaign manager get in touch only if something major was going on. Otherwise, Mira’s mom was the one who broke bad news—like Dad missing a field hockey game, or having to skip Harborfest because the whole family was needed in Washington, D.C., for a UNICEF event. “My dad is calling some emergency powwow.” She frowned, pursing her lips. “I wonder what’s going on this time. Do you think Hurricane Harold is actually going to make landfall? I thought they said it was going out to sea.”
“I’m going to become a category five gale if I don’t get to the mall today!” Savannah griped. Her hot-pink bikini straps fell off her shoulders when she shot up. “Geez, what is with your dad and family meetings? Can’t he just call or text when he needs to tell you something, like a normal dad? I haven’t actually laid eyes on my father since last week.”
“Sorry, Vanna, I have to go.” Mira tossed the latest Us Weekly, her phone, and her sunblock in her bag. “You know how he gets if we’re late. He’ll send his goon to find me.”
“I think Lucas is kind of sexy,” Savannah said, momentarily forgetting what she was annoyed about. “In a buttoned-up, anal kind of way.”
Mira gave her a look. “He’s almost thirty. And you have a boyfriend.”
Savannah shrugged. “I’m allowed to look.”
“Gross.” Mira stifled a laugh. “I promise we’ll hit the mall tomorrow, okay? I’ll even get my mom to give me her platinum card. We can eat lunch at that sushi place you like.”
Savannah grinned. “Now you’re talking.” She put her iPod buds in, closed her eyes, and lay back down, which was exactly what Mira wished she could do. She could think of a zillion things she’d rather be doing than spending one of her last days of freedom in the company of Lucas Hale.
An hour later, Mira waited in the club’s circular driveway. Her long, curly brown hair was damp and she’d only had time to apply lip gloss and eyeliner. At least she got a chance to shower and put on a cute pink strapless dress. She kept a few sundresses in her family’s club locker for just this sort of emergency. Lucas was all about the family image, and he would have freaked if Mira showed up at a restaurant in a beach cover-up.
“Sorry to pull you away from your tanning time,” her older brother, Hayden, teased as he pulled up in a red Audi convertible. Just seeing Hayden behind the wheel of the car made Mira envious. She was fifteen, but her parents wouldn’t let her get a learner’s permit till she turned sixteen. Hopefully, by that time, her dad would let her have the Audi and buy Hayden something new. “I’m sure Savannah was kicking and screaming about you having to leave,” Hayden added.
“You stalk my Facebook page, don’t you?” Mira joked as she slid into the front seat.
“Yes,” he said solemnly, and adjusted the collar of his white polo shirt, which showed off his tan. “I get a printout of your conversations and your day’s activities every morning at the office.”
She hit him in the arm. Her brother was so charming and good-looking, she couldn’t believe he hadn’t been scooped up yet. Every girl she knew had a crush on him (or Taylor), but Hayden was too focused on cross-country and working with their dad to notice. While Mira looked like their dad, Hayden and their younger brother, Connor, who was six, had their mom to thank for their good looks. Hayden inherited her pale blond hair, chiseled heart-shaped face, and her green eyes. With looks like that, it would be easy for Hayden to be vain, but he was the most down-to-earth guy Mira knew.
“Sorry you had to leave work early—and I mean that, since you probably hated to leave,” Mira said wryly. “I thought Mom would give me a ride. She usually is here on Tuesdays.” Tuesday was her mom’s tennis day. It said so on the family’s huge calendar in the kitchen. “But then I texted her and she said to catch a ride with you because she had an ‘appointment.’” Mira made air quotes after the word and smirked. “Maybe she finally went with the trend and got Botox?” she asked with a head tilt.
Hayden gave her a sharp look. “Nice. You’re just lucky cross-country practice was this morning. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to pick you up, either. And Mom, by the way, is already with Dad. They were together all morning, actually. Lucas said they had to attend to some personal matters.” His eyebrows rose slightly. “Of course, he wouldn’t say what those were.”
“Of course not.” Mira sighed. Getting an answer out of Lucas was like trying to break into Fort Knox. “You haven’t heard anything?” He shook his head. Mira put on her oversize black sunglasses and leaned her head against the seat. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
“Top up or down?” Hayden asked before he put the car into drive. He didn’t give Mira time to answer. “I’m guessing top up. You probably don’t want to mess up your hair.”
She grinned mischievously as she felt her still-wet hair. “I’m going to shock you and say—top down!”
“Whoa! New school year, new Mira Monroe.” Hayden smiled. “What’s next? Sneakers outside the gym?”
Mira shook her head. “Never.” What was the point of wearing sneakers if you weren’t a jogger? Mira didn’t get it. She did, however, understand what her dad’s tightly wound campaign manager would say if she showed up at dinner, in a public setting, with a wet head. She shook out her curls and prayed a ten-minute drive with the top down would do the trick.
As they pulled up to the restaurant, Mira’s hair was still damp, and a less-than-appealing frizz had taken over. That’s what Lucas Hale got for giving her no time to get ready for a family powwow.
Mira had no clue what could be so urgent—a state budget crisis? Another oil spill? Hurricane Harold making landfall? Lucas could find a way to turn any disaster into a Bill Monroe campaign opportunity, and usually the family was dragged along for the ride. Lucas was their dad’s unofficial campaign manager for his unannounced senatorial run, and he totally gave Mira the creeps. He kept their dad on such a tight leash that she rarely saw him unless she was scheduled in on his iCalendar or an emergency came up (like today) that usually required their dad to leave town ASAP for both crisis meetings and TV opportunities (“Good morning, America! Bill Monroe has something to say about North Carolina’s dwindling peach crop this year.…”). The guy was like her dad’s own personal BlackBerry, whispering talking points in his ear, calling him at all times of day and night to talk about the campaign and to give advice. That advice extended to Mira’s and her brothers’ after-school activities and wardrobe as well. Lucas made sure every decision the family made gave the Monroe name more bang for its buck come election time. Mira hated all of it.
Hayden, on the other hand, liked being in the thick of the political machine. He was interning for their dad this summer and was more gung ho about politics than ever. Mira didn’t know how he could stand seeing Lucas that much, but Hayden said the internship was too good an opportunity to pass up. The Monroe name would get him far, even if Hayden was determined not to trade on it.
“I’ll bet you ten dollars tonight’s dinner has nothing to do with a natural disaster and everything to do with Emerald Cove’s centennial,” Hayden said as the two walked out to Buona Terra’s private patio overlooking the bay. Their family usually came to this Italian restaurant once a week; that’s how much their dad liked its lobster. “Lucas wouldn’t shut up today about ribbon-cutting ceremonies and two-hundred-dollars-a-plate state dinners, even though the centennial is over two years away.”
“I’d rather this dinner be about the centennial than Dad coming to tell us he has to go away for six weeks,” Mira said as they reached their regular table. “Lucas can talk about the centennial all he wants as long as he doesn’t try to stick me on some high school planning committee. I have enough going on, and school hasn’t even started yet.”
Between her honors classes, field hockey sessions, and her Emerald Prep charity club, the Social Butterflies, Mira’s schedule was overbooked. Sometimes she wished her commitments were things she actually looked forward to doing, rather than things she did just to look good. The Butterflies would give her brownie points on a college application, but Mira longed to find something she could claim as her own. She took the water goblet on the table and twirled it around, watching how the condensation pooled on the sides of the glass and wondering what it was that she was constantly searching for.
Hayden’s eyebrows rose playfully as he removed his tie. “I think you and Savannah would be perfect for a centennial high school committee. No one knows how to bend people to their will better than you two.”
Excerpted from Belles by Calonita, Jen Copyright © 2012 by Calonita, Jen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you are looking for a real good book, this is it. This book is definitly worth the money and will not leave you disappointed! It just lures you into reading from the first chapter, and with each new conflict in every chapter, I could not put it down! It was one of the few well written and heart-warming stories I've recently read. Positivly a must!
This book is amazing! I love Jen Calonita and the secrets of my hollywood life series. I love how you can relate to Izzie and how good a friend Brayden is to her. Mira and Izzie have nothing in common which makes the book really good. I cant wait for book 2 to come out! Jens writing is really good and relatable. If you like girly drama you will LOVE this book! If you haven't already, make sure you read sleepaway girls, reality check, and secrets of my hollywood life series! LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!! A must read
Such a cute book with such a heart-warming story. I love Jen Calonita's books, and I am looking forward to the possibility of a sequel. Great read for teens!
This book is really good. It's a rags to riches story and it has a good message to it . The message is it doesn't matter where you came from your all the same.
Jen Calonita builds a beautiful rags to riches story with her novel, Belles. This was a surprisingly good read! What a great coming of age story about a high schooler, Isabelle Scott (Iz or Izzie for short) who grows up on the wrong side of the tracks and suddenly finds herself thrown into the life of the rich and elite of Emerald Cove (EC) after her grandma and legal guardian takes a turn for the worse. Fitting in and maneuvering the EC social structures in this town are harder than taking care of her ailing grandmother, working as a beach lifeguard, keeping her grades up, paying the bills, buying groceries and maintaining her status of star swimmer...Will she be able to climb the social ladder? Will she make friends? What about the summer fling that suddenly turns up at her new school and is in the arms of the one girl who she despises?
My Thoughts: The story was a little slow but the soap-opera feel to it was amusing and dramatic.Belles is one of those books that will have you laughing super hard at one point and then almost bawling your eyes out the next. Jen Calonita is a very talented author, in my opinion. Other than the fact that the plot line moved a little slower than I would have liked, It was... honestly like one of those crazy reality shows you can't turn off. Oh the things girls will do to get what they want, eh? This book has everything you could ever ask for from a soapy-type story: The controlling boyfriend, the psychotic mean girl, the hot surfer dude and of course, the life changing secret! But coming out of reading a bunch of dark and mysterious paranormals and dystopians, this was a breath of clean, non-polluted air!This book was a very neat contemporary.There was a great Cinderella feel to it and it was a lot of high school fun. There's a big political side to it with Izzie's uncle being a senator and the events that happen with that were fun to read. Plus, the romance wasn't full-on at all. It was mostly a nice side attraction that just added to the fun. I adored Izzie's character. She was determined and loyal to who she is, keeping her head on straight even as her life goes into turmoil. She was one of those characters that you want to go up to, shake their hand and say "well done for getting through this". I really loved the relationship between her and Hayden, Mira's brother. It made me want a Hayden-type of person in my life! Going back to Mira... That's kind of complicated. You see, we have this girl who is best friends with the school's queen bee. She's 'second in command' so to speak. But she begins to realize that she doesn't want to be that puppy following Queenie's every move anymore and finds a niche that she thoroughly enjoys... art. But along the way she does some not too nice things to her cousin. I don't know... I don't particularly like Mira, but I don't hate her. I think as the series progresses we will begin to get more of an understanding of her and see where she stands exactly.The character depth in this book was really great. Even with the smallest, most insignificant characters, I felt like I at least knew a little bit about them and who they were and what they were contributing to the story. Even with Savannah, said 'Queen Bee', as much as I DESPISED her, she impressed me all the same. She was cunning and swift and added so much to the story that made it all the more fun. I think I secretly liked her... Just a bit. ;)Finally, the ending. OH the ending. I laughed my head off at the part where we find out the big secret. It's not that it's a funny finale, it's just the way every thing all plays out feels so... Soap-Opera-y. But other than that, the secret was a big shock... Kind of. I had the sneaking suspicion that something like this would happen, but once again, the way it all played out, you can't help but be shocked. I'm now really looking forward to Winter White which comes out in December. I can't wait to see how all the drama unfolds and whether or not this family can keep everything together. I guess we'll have to wait and find out!
Belles just flows; it is heart warming and promising - Jen Calonita just kept on giving me more and more, charming me with wonderful memorable characters and amazing scenes! Isabelle Scott, aka Izzie, is trying to keep her little family together ever since her mother passed away when she was ten. She goes to school, teaches swim classes, takes care of her sick grandmother and all the household chores. She does everything and anything in order to keep her social worker happy so she doesn't have to be placed into foster care... but when Izzie's grandmother's Alzheimer's gets worse, the social worker has no choice but to do what is right and place grandma in a home and reveals that Izzie is going to go live with her long lost Uncle at a nearby town, Emerald Cove.In one night, Izzie's life is turned upside down. She is taken away from her homely town on the boardwalk and thrust into a gated community, private school, thousand dollar dresses and 'mean girls'. But Izzie is so well grounded, she knows how to handle herself and does it so well. Izzie's cousin, Mirabelle, was a bit hard to like in the beginning. As a true southern belle, Mira put on her smile and did her best to just go through the niceties in welcoming Izzie. And of course, we all saw through that. But as the story went along, we see changes in Mira, and hope for the best.More drama and secrets unfold - you couldn't ask for more! I really enjoyed how Calonita would smoothly alternate between Izzie and Mira's thoughts. I got to see and hear both sides of their stories. I also love and appreciate how Calonita ended the book. Pure perfection and I cannot wait to read Belles sequel, Winter White, being released on October 9th, 2012.
Jen Calonita brings Cinderella to modern times. Izzie lived a rough life, taking care of her grandmother and trying to make ends meet. She had good friends and neighbors, people who respected her and were concerned over her wellbeing. Then a social worker intervenes and sends her to live with a distant relative, and Izzie enters the world of the rich and glamorous. Here, the fairy-tale world takes a twists, and Izzie becomes new girl in a rich private school, threatened by the queen bee whose boyfriend she takes an interest in.The story is told through the alternating perspectives of Izzie and her cousin Mira, two very different individuals. Izzie is down-to-earth and easy to connect with. Having taken care of her grandmother and herself for some time, Izzie is independent and doesn't easily fall prey to moments of weakness. She cares about people and doesn't let her sudden rich lifestyle get to her head. Mira, on the other hand, is the queen bee's minion. Having lived a privileged life, Mira comes off as a bit conceited and bratty at first. She is afraid to stand up for herself and makes decisions based off what she thinks others will do instead of trying to think for herself. Without her telling part of the story, it would have been hard for me to find something in her to relate to.Drama, politics, and rumors fly in Belles, with the added charm of a little romance sprinkled in. I grew to love many of the cast. This is a fun contemporary read, a good one to pick up if you're not looking for an especially dark or heavy atmosphere. I definitely recommend picking it up when you get the chance!
There is something about a "mean girl" story that people just can't get enough of. There's the Southern Belle stories, and the NYC Gossip Girl types, but Belles by Jen Calonita is a new mix of the classic situation. Belles is a mix of the two, meeting in North Carolina; southern enough for class and old money, north enough for drama, flashiness and backstabbing. Isabelle Scott, preferably called Izzie, loves her life in the unsavory part of town, as difficult as it is. With her mother's passing a few years back, she got used to living without much with her grandmother. Now that her grandma's mental lucidity is deteriorating fast, her social work decides to put a plan in action that would ship grandma to a nursing home and Izzie to live with a distant Uncle she has never met. She is transported to a glamourous town filled with more money then she could have ever imagined, a high profile family, an unwelcoming school, and to top it off, she quickly become's the queen bee's new target. When it all becomes too much to handle, a secret is revealed that will change her life forever - both new and old. But is it for the better? Starting with the first glance at the cover, I was hooked. I mean, whoever designed that beautiful image deserves a raise. Moving on to the story, I was not disappointed. I was expecting more of the "southern belle" thing, but what I actually got was probably better. It took me forever to realize that "Belles" really came from "Isabelle" and her cousin "Mirabelle", both "...belles". Once I made that connection (give me a break, I'm slow sometimes) it all made more sense. Speaking of those two girls, they were really great characters. Izzie is not afraid to be herself; she is proud of her controversial roots and doesn't like spending the money that was recently thrown at her. Mirabelle, Mira for short, is the opposite. She grew up iced with jewels, is afraid to reveal her true self and interests to her so called friends and will do whatever it takes to stay on top. However, when they meet, their influences really start to change the other (however reluctant they are to these changes). These changes don't happen immediately, or even quickly, which made the continual growth more realistic and interesting. The supporting characters were also quite likable - or maybe relatable is the better word, since not all of them are super cuddly (*cough* Savannah *cough*). My only real criticism lies with a technicality. When the social worker moves Izzie, she says her grandmother "found" an uncle on her side. Wouldn't that be like "finding" her son? Then the uncle calls Izzie's mom a "distant relative", which is rephrased to "distant cousin". Which would mean that they weren't siblings. So the people Izzie called her aunt and uncle would really be her cousins. Right? Other than that... I found the story very sweet and entertaining. I am really looking forward to the sequel coming this fall!
I think it's a universal truth that 99.9% of all kids have a fantasy: One day they will be whisked away from their drab, parent-addled life into a world filled with clothes, money, new cars...you get the idea. Back when I was a kid, I hoped my "real parents" were a king and queen. These days, I think kids will settle for unlimited texting and a bottomless iTunes account. But not Isabelle "Izzy" Scott. She's happy with her life on the wrong side of the tracks. She doesn't even mind the run down home she lives in, or the fact that her only family after her mother's death is her increasingly forgetful grandmother. She has her friends, including the adorable yet mysterious Brayden, her school, her beach. This life is her's and she wouldn't trade it for anything. So when her grandmother, in a lucid state, has her sent to previously unknown family, Izzy's world is shattered. Who wants the glam life where people treat you like a charity case, act like your a criminal because of your upbringing, or act like you don't deserve to be there? Where your perfect new "cousin" is one of the mean girls trying to bring you down? And what will Izzy do when she finds a face from her old life and learns long-hidden truths about her background. There was so much that I adored about BELLES.. I love the premise of a girl being offered the good life, and seeing how she responds. Izzy was determined, yet vulnerable. It would be so easy to slip like a warm glove into the new world she's offered. I mean, who doesn't want the best money can offer? But she is determined to remain the same girl she was before. BELLES is also told from Izzy's new cousin, Mira's, point of view. The alternating points of view really helped keep me from completely hating Mira. Without knowing what she's actually feeling, she could have become a heartless, spineless brat. It was nice to see her vulnerabilites, even though I was never on her "side". There are some nice dramatic bits to the story, usually courtesy of the Mean Girls, lead by the awful Savannah. This girl was a pill, without becoming a caricature. If I could have climbed into the story and throttle her myself, I would have. Thank goodness I never had to face girls like this back in school. I would have been in the principal's office, or at the police station, on a regular basis. Another dramatic turn comes fairly soon after Izzy moves. In the interest of not spoiling the story, my lips are sealed. But it was a nice surprise I didn't see coming at all. It upped the "WTF Factor" in Izzy's world and totally made me love this story so, so much. My only small complaint would be that the BIG revelation came too late in the story. This was something I figured out pretty quickly and waited the entire book for the bomb to drop. I would have liked to have seen more of the fallout, but with book two coming this Fall, I don't have to wait long to find out what happens next. All in all, I really, really enjoyed this book. Author Jen Calonita's writing flows flawlessly, making it an easy, fast read. If you're a fan of Contemporary Young Adult with healthy doses of drama and heart, BELLES should be a great fit. Favorite Quote: "She'd lived here for her whole life and she had half an hour to put her world in a duffel bag and say goodbye?" (pg. 29)
I thought this was going to be more of a light, fluffy read when I picked it up, and it was, at times, but there was also a lot of depth to the characters and what their going through. The story is told from Izzy and Mira's points of view. Izzy is uprooted from her life and forced to live with her Aunt, Uncle, and cousins. This is a big change for her. Mira isn't handling it well. There is a lot of adjusting to be done by all, as this is a tough situation to be thrown into. There was a definite case of Mean Girls going on.. Southern Style of course. Insulting, rejecting, degrading, and humiliating a person all with complete politeness and a smile is a skill that can only be completely perfected in the South. (I can say that, since I live in the South. *wink*) These girls have the skill down to an art. I was furious at them at times. At the same time, sometimes they made me proud at how they overcame things and handled situations. Izzy stayed strong. I don't know how she did it. Mira probably had the most growth as a person. I feel invested in their lives now. It was a journey getting there, but, that was just part of this book's charm.
Finished it in a few hours
Copper gauntlet casandra clair Fantisy fiction Tyler stein us nc
RFace360, age 12... Story name: The Lost Jedi. I'll post it at around 10:30 PM seattle time tomorrow
The story line was fine. I couldn't stand the amount of drama. Sure, there has to be conflict to make a book but come on, chapter after chapter had disaster after disaster and the characters drove me crazy with their choices! The book was maddening & then the end was abrupt. I'd like to know if there is supposed to be a sequal because there were loose ends but i don't know if I can stand any more drama!
No more chosen ones go to the clique of gold and see
I want to renew Ava's charecter app. U remember it right?
Where r u? Call me~meemo
Isabelle scott has always lived in harborside. So she is utterly out of place when she is taken iin by her wealthy uncle Bill, who lives in Emerald Cove. EC is a town full of superficial brats, just like her cousin mirabelle. Belles is the story of how izzie begins to find her plave, bothwithin the town and in her family. If you are looking for a suspenseful book full of juicy drama, this is a beautifully written book!
Overall it wasn't bad, but I don't recommend it to anyone who doesn't read a lot of chickie books like this.